Extreme caution required in Gulf Oil-spill clean up: Berkeley expert

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Berkeley, Ca, May 5 (ANI): A Berkeley Lab bioremediation expert has advised extreme caution in the clean-up operation of the Deepwater Horizon oil slick owing to the fragile ecology of the Gulf Coast.

Harsh detergents used to clean up oil contamination sites could aggravate the situation.

"The concentration of detergents and other chemicals used to clean up sites contaminated by oil spills can cause environmental nightmares of their own," says Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist in Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division.

"It is important to remember that oil is a biological product and can be degraded by microbes, both on and beneath the surface of the water. Some of the detergents that are typically used to clean-up spill sites are more toxic than the oil itself, in which case it would be better to leave the site alone and allow microbes to do what they do best," he added.

To contain the spreading oil slick and keep it from polluting the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf coast and the Mississippi delta, clean-up crews have unleashed an array of chemical dispersants, oil skimmers and booms.

They have also attempted to burn off some of the surface oil. Such aggressive clean-up efforts are fraught with unintended consequences, Hazen warns.

Hazen cites the example of the Amoco Cadiz, that split in two about three miles off the coast of Normandy where the spill-site so large that only the areas of greatest economic impact were treated with detergents. Thus large areas in the more remote parts of the coast went untreated.

"The untreated coastal areas were fully recovered within five years of the Amoco Cadiz spill," says Hazen. "As for the treated areas, ecological studies show that 30 years later, those areas still have not recovered," he says.

He recommends the use of 'sorbents' that absorb liquids and gases to render the exercise more effective and minimise damage. (ANI)

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